When talking about best-case and worst-case, it would be hard to imagine a worse case than the 2020 season when it comes to Michigan football. With any luck, head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines will put the 2-4 COVID-marred season behind them and begin to get the program back to the power-program that it once was.

Of course, this is B1G football, and nothing is that easy. Whether you fall on the side of a rebound, or feel last season was a call for major changes in Ann Arbor, we take a look at some of the best and worst-case scenarios for the 2021 campaign.

Best: The Rutgers-game Cade McNamara returns

Now that Harbaugh has officially named Cade McNamara the starter for game one, the Wolverines need him to continue to play as he did in 2020’s penultimate game vs. Rutgers. The redshirt sophomore threw for 4 touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights, completing 27 of 32 attempts without throwing an interception. McNamara saw action in 4 of Michigan’s 6 games and completed 60.6% of his passes, finding the end zone 5 times without an interception. The best thing that can happen is for that to continue.

Worst: A revolving door at QB

The quarterback battle during Wolverines camp this season was between McNamara and 5-star freshman J.J. McCarthy. While McNamara was named to the top spot on the depth chart, McCarthy has apparently held off Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman for the backup role. McCarthy is the highest-rated passer that Harbaugh has recruited out of high school, and his progress has apparently been good behind the scenes, but a true freshman in a leadership role for a program in need of re-establishing themselves as a power is not an ideal situation — nor is a revolving door behind center.

Best: Mike Macdonald is the answer for the defense

Last season’s defense occasionally moved to a three-man front, but the set base was a 4-3, leaving the corners on an island in man coverage. The approach became easily predictable and the opposition was able to dominate. With new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald in charge, there are several fronts, several coverages and an array of schematic changes, and looks designed to disrupt the offensive flow.

Worst: Last season’s mindset remains

Last season, the Michigan defense allowed 34.5 points per game and a staggering 5.5 yards per play. Both those stats ranked near the bottom of the B1G defenses, and the mindset among the returners will need to change, specifically when it comes to allowing all the big plays. If the changes in the defensive schemes don’t prevent the explosive plays by the opposing offenses, it won’t make any difference. There needs to be a return to the winning attitude in Ann Arbor, back to the days when the Maize and Blue were among the elite of the conference and nation every fall. If the defense can’t keep the other side at bay, the 2021 season may just be a repeat performance of the disappointments that surrounded 2020.

Best: The Fantasyland record

The Wolverines have one of the toughest schedules in all of college football. Five preseason AP top 25 opponents pepper the Michigan schedule — No. 4 Ohio State, at No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 17 Indiana, at No. 19 Penn State and No. 20 Washington.

Realistically, the best that can be expected entering conference play on Sept. 25 when the Wolverines host Rutgers will be to be sitting on a 2-1 record. A pair of “should-win” home games against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois sandwich a match up with No. 20 Washington.

To achieve the Fantasyland scenario with respect to a final 2021 record, it would require Michigan to not only win it is supposed to win, and win games they shouldn’t, but avoid the inevitable loss to a team it is supposed to beat.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say the return of fans to the Big House has an over-the-rim effect, and either Washington or Indiana fall into the win column — games the Wolverines aren’t supposed to win.

The Wolverines haven’t won in Lincoln since 2012, but Nebraska isn’t good, so the Huskers, along with Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers and the two pre-conference season “should-win” games with Western Kentucky and Northern Illinois would all be wins. Northwestern has been hit with recent injuries, and should be a fraction of the threat they were last year and have to deal with the Wolverines’ home crowd. Then, if we’re continuing to talk about a best-case, a win in Happy Valley against Penn State would pop into the mix.

That picture would result in an 8-3 record heading into “The Game” at what is sure to be a packed Michigan Stadium for the regular season finale with Ohio State — if that’s the case, expect a typical rivalry game that can go either way.

Best case record: 8-4, barring a miracle against the Buckeyes after Thanksgiving.
Bowl prediction: Music City Bowl (Citrus Bowl with an upset over Ohio State)

Worst: A 1-2 start, and worse than last year

The 2-4 record in 2020 translates to a 4-8 record over a 12 game season. Should one of those “should-win” non-conference games result in an upset, the stage will be set for another disaster as the program that is looking to build confidence and regain a winning attitude will be the target of a bombardment of criticism and calls for change. Should the Wolverines not be able to handle the likes of Northern Illinois or Western Kentucky, be prepared to see them get pummeled while trying to meander through the B1G schedule.

Worst case record: 3-9, and an active head coaching job search in January.